My new SkyMiles award flight crush: China Airlines

If Delta’s SkyMiles program is the Mohave Desert of award travel, China Airlines is a hidden oasis waterfall.

Once considered an also-ran to competitor EVA Airways, Taiwanese flagship carrier China Airlines now operates one of the best services across the Pacific Ocean. It also has the best award availability of just about any airline in the SkyTeam alliance. Recently I helped a man who was trying to find award space to Japan, so his son could join him on a forthcoming business trip.

Surely, the platinum frequent flier thought, 260,000 SkyMiles would be enough to get a 13-year-old across the ocean and back. Not so fast. Delta wanted at least 310,000 miles. No, that isn’t a typo.

Thankfully, China Airlines has become one of the best secret weapons in my bag of Juicy Miles award booking tricks.  For 190,000 miles, round-trip, I was able to put the young man in one of the nicest business class seats now crossing the Pacific. Taxes and fees added up to a diminutive $130. The client was thrilled.

Like many award redemptions, booking the flight is easy if you know where to look for space.

China Airlines awards are almost always available

I suspected that, even as Delta jacked up prices on its own awards, there was one trusty carrier who would have abundant saver-level space.

Unlike Korean Air, which seems to be releasing less space to SkyTeam partners lately, China Airlines business class awards are abundant. Just don’t expect to find them on (or any other Skyteam website, for that matter).

ExpertFlyer easily shows China Airlines availability, even for the airline’s most sought after routes. Business class award space for two passengers between New York and Taipei this fall is nearly universally open.

Great SkyMiles award (or SkyTeam) award availability between New York and Asia, for two passengers in business class.kyTeam

China Airlines Skymiles SkyTeam award availability

Similarly great availability on the return, also for two passengers in business class.

I’ll avoid filling your screen with boring ExpertFlyer screenshots. Trust me when I say that availability is at least this good or better for the airline’s other North American access points: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver.

As reliably as your favorite car starts in the morning, China Airlines award availability is almost open. Remember to write down flight numbers and exact dates, however. With Delta, Flying Blue, and Korean, you must book China Airlines awards over the phone.

China Airlines: the world’s most underrated business class

As easy as it might be to find award space on China Eastern, China Southern or even Skypass availability on Korean, none of those airlines can hold a candle to China Airlines’ new premium business class.

China Airlines Premium Business class. This is a company photo, but I will vouch to say it really does look this good. Image: China Airlines.

I was not yet writing reviews when I flew China Airlines from San Francisco to Bangkok last year. What a shame. The premium business cabin on the airline’s new 777-300er and A350 aircraft is simply the most beautiful airplane cabin I’ve ever been in.

The bar abutting China Airlines premium business class cabin on a 777-300er. Source: China Airlines.

To complement its designer interiors, the airline has installed class-leading B/E Super Diamond seating in a reverse herringbone configuration. These are the same business class seats you’ll find on Air Canada’s 777-300s and American Airlines’ newest 787-900s and 777 retrofits, Garuda Indonesia’s A330-300, Qatar Airways and Virgin Australia.

China Airlines had to make some of the best business class seats better. They installed miniature table lamps.

Ground services are equally impressive. The Supreme Lounge at Taipei Tayouan International Airport is the most pleasant I’ve experienced, and contends with the Air France flagship Salon at Paris Charles De Gaulle for my favorite SkyTeam lounge worldwide.

The China Airlines business class lounges in Taipei are like no other. Source: China Airlines.

If and when the airline starts opening its premium economy cabin up for partner award redemptions, I will be equally enthusiastic. China Airlines’ premium economy cabin is sharp and features the same highly acclaimed premium economy seats used by Air New Zealand and Qantas.

China Airlines’ U.S. schedules are fantastic

China Airlines operates two flights per day from Los Angeles, and one flight per day to New York (JFK) and San Francisco. In each case the airline offers midnight U.S. departures, which arrive in the morning and provide access to connections across CI’s extensive Asia-Pacific route network. The midnight departure time makes it easy to find space on Delta airlines to form U.S. connections.

Most returning flights leave Taipei in the evening, offering easy and abundant inbound connections and fairly easy connections. If you’re fine arriving stateside later, this works out. If you’re looking for an easier Delta connection, China Airlines operates a single mid-day flight between Taipei and Los Angeles that enables connections to a wide swath of Delta’s eastbound departures.

A great option

I handle multiple award bookings every week, and China Airlines has become one of my go-to choices for getting SkyMiles customers across the pacific, even in cases where all other options have failed.

I never hesitate to put a client onboard one of the airline’s gorgeous aircraft. Everyone I know who has flown the airline in recent years has raved about it.

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  1. Totally agree. But does Delta raise saver level from 80K to 95K to book from US to TPE or any Asian cities now? I flew several times with CI last year but this year when I tried to book tickets I see min is 95K miles.

  2. That looks great. How do you check availability for free, and how do you get flights that specifically have the new seats? Thanks.

  3. Was able to get in last year on their B777-300ER service from SFO-TPE for 70k O/W. Jumped at the opportunity to burn the remainder of my skymiles when the availablity came up. Crazy to see its at 190K miles R/T now.

  4. DL used to charge 140K, then 160K (earlier this year) and now 190K? That’s not saver-level for sure.

    Also, CI is swapping new B773ER to new A359 on TPE/SFO route.

  5. I booked via KE. Very nice cabin for my wife and kid. Wouldn’t hesitate to book again. EVA air also has excellent availability if you have *A miles

  6. Availability US to Taipei, and vice versa, usually shows up even on Delta App. But I was not successful looking for extended flights down to Southeast Asia or Japan VIA Taipei on Delta App.

  7. and yes, Delta SkyMiles devaluated this route earlier this year. 70k one way went up to 95k on way now. terrible.

  8. Checked Flying Blue last night and found availability from LAX-BKK. So ExpertFlyer is not the only method for searching award space.

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